A number of years back, I was active in prison ministry at the women’s correctional facility in Taft, Oklahoma. In addition to conducting a weekly Bible study inside the prison walls, I volunteered in the GED program to help women earn their high school equivalency diploma.
I was blessed with a gifted algebra teacher when I was in school who managed to make the material easy and exciting for our entire ninth-grade class. His teaching changed my life and I now believed I could make the same difference in the lives of these women. That first day, I showed up with a burning desire to teach algebra to what I knew would be a hungry-to-learn and wildly enthusiastic audience.
It didn’t turn out quite as expected.
The math teacher asked a favor. Would I take on a class of remedial math students and teach them fractions—how to add, subtract, multiply and divide non-whole numbers. I wasn’t even sure I remembered how. And how do you make fractions exciting?
Of course I complied with her wishes and immediately began working on a lesson plan in my head at the same time I was introducing the subject to my new students. I am quite sure the words from my mouth came directly from God.
I took them back to that day in arithmetic class when they first couldn’t stay up with the others. Most likely it was at the introduction of fractions. Realizing they were not understanding as well as other students caused them to feel inferior and dread going to school. Playing hooky became more and more frequent. One day they dropped out altogether. And it went downhill from there, finally ending inside the walls of a prison.
Disinterested eyes began to flicker. They were relating. Young girls and older ones scooched to the front of their chairs; bodies leaned towards me. The women were totally engaged.
“What if I told you I can teach you everything you need to know about fractions in four two-hour sessions? What kind of difference would that make in your life?” Hands shot up as each wanted to tell her story.
“Then let’s get started.” You could feel the excitement mount in the room.
Together we created the whiteboard “pie” and divided it into segments. We undertook a new language and mastered addition—all on that first day together. The change in countenance as women gained confidence was nothing short of miraculous. Light bulbs were going off all over the place!
In subsequent sessions, we covered subtraction, multiplication and division—how they are the same and how they are different, all reduced to simple, basic steps. One of the students told me afterwards: “If someone had taken the time to teach me like this when I was in school, my entire life would have been different.”
Just think of it. One something that you do for another can change that life forever. It could mean the difference between a life of crime and one of good works.
This is the way it is when you share the gospel with a friend, family member or a stranger. You never know but what your words might be the ones that change that person’s life forever. We owe it to everyone we meet to give them the opportunity to know about Jesus and to make the decision for themselves.
After all, somebody did it for us.